SEAN RODRIGUEZ, SECOND BASEMAN
|Born: April 26, 1985
Drafted: 3rd Round, 90th Overall, 2003 (Angels)
How Acquired: Trade from Braves (for Connor Joe)
High School: Braddock (FL) HS
Agents: MVP Sports Group
WTM’s PLAYER PROFILE
|Rodriguez was a well regarded prospect with the Angels before becoming a mainstay in a utility role with a series of mostly strong Tampa Bay teams. He was primarily a shortstop in the minors. In the majors he’s played everywhere but catcher and pitcher. His most frequent position in the majors has been second, but he’s played a lot at short, third, and corner outfield. He’s also played in 49 games at first. The defensive numbers suggest he’s probably average or a little better at second, third and in the outfield. He also seems to be no worse than average at short, but he’s played there very little since 2012 and has slowed a bit since then.
Rodriguez was one of several Angels’ prospect who put up big minor league numbers that didn’t translate to the majors, others being Dallas McPherson, Casey Kotchman, and Brandon Wood. Very favorable hitting environments no doubt played a role; Rodriguez’ best numbers came in the California League and at Salt Lake City in the Pacific Coast League. His plate discipline declined as he moved up through the minors and hasn’t been good in the majors. He has good bat speed that translates into decent power for an infielder. He’s struggled in the majors against RHPs, with an OPS of just .611, but he’s posted a .746 mark against LHPs. He has average speed or a little below, but was a decent base stealer earlier in his career. He hasn’t run much in recent years. The Pirates obtained Rodriguez for a PTBNL, which turned out to be Buddy Borden, after the Rays designated him for assignment.
Rodriguez had a solid debut in rookie ball, where the Angels played him primarily at short and also some at third.
The Angels initially sent Rodriguez to full season ball and he struggled some, striking out in more than a quarter of his ABs. They eventually moved him to the advanced rookie Pioneer League, which he dominated, including a sharp improvement in his walk rate. He did, however, continue to fan over a quarter of the time. He alternated amongst second, third, short and the outfield in class A, playing short in only six games, but the Angels used him mainly at short in the Pioneer League.
Rodriguez had a solid season in low A, where he played mostly short but also some at second and third, and in center. He continued to draw walks and cut his K rate a little.
Playing short regularly, Rodriguez had a big season in high A, leading the minors in total bases. Of course, this was the California League. He fanned in well over a quarter of his ABs, though. After the season, Baseball America ranked him the eighth best prospect in a strong Angels’ system.
Rodriguez’ hitting was more modest in AA and he continued to strike out a lot. He again played short almost exclusively. BA rated him the Angels’ seventh best prospect after the season and the Angels added him to their 40-man roster.
The Angels shifted Rodriguez back and forth between AAA and the majors, finally bringing him up to stay in early August. He put up huge numbers in AAA, with 21 HRs in less than half a season. The majors were a different story, as Rodriguez struggled, fanning in a third of his ABs.
Rodriguez spent most of the season in AAA, getting brief callups to the Angels in June and at the end of July. The Angels traded with the Rays to get Scott Kazmir a few days before the trade deadline and Rodriguez was included on September 1 as a PTBNL. The Rays did not call him up in September. He continued to put up big numbers during his time in AAA. He saw the bulk of his AAA action at second.
Rodriguez spent the season with Tampa Bay. He was the Ray’s most frequent second baseman and that’s where he saw most of his time, as they had Jason Bartlett at short. He hit respectably, but continued to whiff well over a quarter of the time.
With Ben Zobrist getting most of the time at second, the Rays used Rodriguez in more of a utility role and he saw significant time at second, third and short. He struggled at the plate, but did greatly improve his walk rate while cutting his K rate to less than once every four ABs.
Rodriguez split his time evenly amongst second, third and short. He had his worst season at the plate.
Rodriguez bounced back some on offense, although he saw significantly less playing time than the previous three years. The Rays had Zobrist and Yunel Escobar in the middle infield, and Evan Longoria for once stayed healthy all year. Rodriguez got most of his time in left and at first.
Rodriguez got just a little more playing time than in 2013, most of it at first and second, and in the outfield. He put up the same OPS+ as the previous year (97), but by very different means. A low BABIP of .235 dropped his average to .211 and his walk rate plummeted, but he showed the best power of his career. The Rays designated him for assignment after the season.
Rodriguez seemed like a good acquisition as an infielder who could play short and hit a little. Unfortunately, Clint Hurdle decided from day one that Rodriguez was a corner player. He saw a little time at third and in the outfield corners in the season’s first couple months, also serving often as a defensive replacement at first. When Corey Hart went out for good in mid-June, though, Rodriguez became the right-handed part of the first base platoon. He’d have been poorly suited for the role if he’d continued hitting the way he had previously, but he collapsed at the plate over the season’s first four months. On August 18 he was hitting just 217/242/315. Fortunately, the team’s acquisition of Michael Morse ended his tenure as a platoon first baseman, but Hurdle continued to look for ways to get Rodriguez as much playing time as possible. He remained the late-inning defensive replacement at first, and Hurdle often put him in as early as the 7th or even 6th inning. Hurdle also used Rodriguez as a defensive sub in some tied games. The result was that Rodriguez got far too many plate appearances. Rodriguez finally had a good stretch running from mid-August to early September, enough to raise his numbers on the season from nightmarish to just very bad. He then finished the season in a 2-for-18 slide. His hitting struggles were reflected not just in the slash line and the terrible plate discipline. Compared to his career norms, Rodriguez hit far more grounders and more popups, and dramatically fewer flyballs (31.8% in 2014 compared to 40% for his career). He also took significantly fewer pitches, both in and out of the strike zone. The increase in grounders led to a high rate of GIDPs (16%, compared to the NL average of 12%) even though his extremely high K rate meant he wasn’t putting the ball in play much. Defensively, Rodriguez played well everywhere except at short, where he played only 13 innings.
Rodriguez became a free agent after the season, but the Pirates re-signed him for 2016. Remarkably, Rodriguez followed his dismal 2015 showing with by far his best season. His OPS+ was 126, compared to his previous best of 97, and he put up career highs in most offensive categories. The improvement accompanied a sharp decrease in the frequency with which he swung at pitches, especially ones outside the strike zone. His swing rate on pitches outside the zone decreased by roughly 20%. Rodriguez’ K rate actually increased to a career high 29.8%, but he also had a career-high walk rate. Defensively, he played every position except pitcher and catcher. The Pirates continued to use Rodriguez frequently as a defensive replacement at first, but most of his starts came at short, second and right.
The Pirate apparently made some effort to re-sign Rodriguez, but he quickly took a two-year, $11.5M deal with Atlanta. The Braves wanted him as an option for second base, but in January Rodriguez and his family were involved in a serious car wreck with a stolen police cruiser. They all recovered, fortunately, but Rodriguez had to have shoulder surgery that, at the time, appeared to jeopardize his season. He recovered quickly, considering the seriousness of the injury, and joined the Braves in mid-July. Shortly after that, the Braves brought up top prospect Ozzie Albies to play second. A few days after the trade deadline, they sent Rodriguez to the Pirates for Connor Joe. Rodriguez had a dramatic return, hitting a walkoff HR in his first game back, but he struggled badly the rest of the season. Considering that he came back well ahead of schedule from a serious injury, it’s hard not to think he wasn’t healthy. Nevertheless, Clint Hurdle went to some lengths to get Rodriguez as much playing time as possible, instead of focusing on younger players.
Rodriguez remains under contract for 2018, so absent some further move he’ll be on the team. The Pirates might be better off going with Adam Frazier and Max Moroff as utility players, especially considering Hurdle’s tendency to overuse veterans, whether they’re performing adequately or not. There are also the questions whether Rodriguez can repeat any portion of his 2016 success — he hasn’t had another season remotely like it in a lengthy career — and whether the shoulder injury could have lasting effects.
UPDATE: Rodriguez struggled through a horrendous 2018 season. In particular, he had a terrible time making contact, striking out in 40% of his at-bats, suggesting that he didn’t recover fully from the shoulder injury. The Pirates, however, stuck with him stubbornly in an apparent, desperate effort to salvage his season. A 2-for-38 stretch, with 16 strikeouts, finally led to a dubious stint on the disabled list and a minor league rehab. When Rodriguez returned, he had three good games and then went on a 2-for-21 stretch with 12 strikeouts. At the end of August, the Pirates finally stopped making excuses for Rodriguez and designated him for assignment.
|Signing Bonus: $400,000
MiLB Debut: 2003
MLB Debut: 4/19/2008
MiLB FA Eligible: N/A
MLB FA Eligible: 2016
Rule 5 Eligible: N/A
Added to 40-Man: November 2, 2007
Options Remaining: 1 (USED: 2008, 2009)
MLB Service Time: 8.133
|June 3, 2003: Drafted by the Anaheim Angels in the 3rd round, 90th overall pick; signed on June 4.
November 2, 2007: Contract purchased by the Anaheim Angels.
August 28, 2009: Traded by the Anaheim Angels with Alex Torres and Matt Sweeney to the Tampa Bay Rays for Scott Kazmir.
November 26, 2014: Designated for assignment by the Tampa Bay Rays.
December 1, 2014: Traded by the Tampa Bay Rays to the Pittsburgh Pirates for Buddy Borden.
November 2, 2015: Became a free agent.
December 15, 2015: Signed by the Pittsburgh Pirates as a free agent.
November 3, 2016: Became a free agent.
November 30, 2016: Signed as a free agent by the Atlanta Braves.
August 5, 2017: Traded by the Atlanta Braves to the Pittsburgh Pirates for Connor Joe.
August 29, 2018: Designated for assignment by the Pittsburgh Pirates.